Mahila Shasaktikaran ? ( Women's Empowerment ?)

Open letter to the Chief Minister of Gujurat from Mallika Sarabhai.

Mahila Shasaktikaran?
DNA August 28th 14

My dear Chief Minister,

On Thursday morning I received a picture of a poster  brought out by your government with your photograph on the right corner and the title Mahila Sashaktikaran, or Empowering Women. The main photo is of three or four non Indian women wearing jeans and shirts and the text says, “Ayogya kapada paheri bahar na niklo” or Do Not Go Out Wearing Inappropriate Clothes. The advertisement has been put out by the police department of Porbandar.

I remember a time, oh it must have been forty years ago, when men in Europe pinched the midriff of Indian women wearing saris because they felt that a bare midriff was really sexy and an invitation to be pinched. They were bored apparently of their own women wearing mini skirts and showing cleavage. The midriff was ‘forbidden” and therefor fair game for any man who thought a woman was his for fun. I do not however recall either our own government or those of the European countries putting out posters warning women to cover up, or warning  the men of dire consequences ( though that would have been appropriate). And Indian women slapped off these advances in many cases and continued wearing the sari.

I also know the hundreds of thousands of women in Gujarat who for centuries have been wearing backless cholis and continue doing so. I do not recall a warning of appropriate dressing going out to them either.

How is this poster empowering women? Why does it picture foreign women? What is wrong with what they are wearing? What is wrong with wearing any kind of clothes? If a warning on clothing must be put out should it not be for men as well?

Madame Chief Minister, if this poster has gone our with your knowledge then women in Gujarat need to be warned, for nothing could feed into the sick mentality of our men, who treat women as chattel, more than this. The poster shows the misogynist mentality that says rape and abuse are the fault of women. Any study on violence against women, anywhere in the world, will tell you this is not the case. Violence against women is about men – about male gaze; about patriarchy; about male entitlement; about the way we bring up our sons to think women exist for their use. Violence against women is about telling little boys 'be a man', about their mardangi; about women chastising other women for no fault of theirs as they play out like puppets in the hands of patriarchy; and it is about violence and crime committed, nearly always, by men and boys.

The poster reflects all that is sick in our society, all that leads to the continuing killing of girl foetuses, of the rape of two month olds and 80 yealr olds, of the refusal of police stations to file FIRs, about politicians and so called gurus who say boys will be boys. This poster, Madame, shows why there is no decrease in the rate of crimes against women since NIrbhaya, since the Justice Verma Commission Report. It is a reflection on why, in spite of fast track courts and judges requiring to be more open and fair, there is no conviction rate increase in crimes against women in the last two years, and it reflects this society’s forgetting of the young girls raped and hanged from trees for all to see and as a warning against women who do not wish to be silent when abused.

We live in a State where more and more young women decide to wear odhanis to cover all but their eyes,  like  burkhas,  to protect themselves against roving male eyes. This poster wishes to drive us all to that condition.

Madame, tell the women of Gujarat that this poster is WRONG. Make a statement that crimes against women are rarely, if ever, the fault of women, that they are the fault of misguided men, perpetuated and carried out by men, and that we need to work on the men to stop them. Now and for a long time to come.

As a woman and a Chief Minister, this is the least that the women of Gujarat expect of you. Do not let us down.

Mallika Sarabhai

Letter to Chief Minister in response to this poster
The poster has now been removed.

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